Following his first legal history, Worse than the Devil, about the Milwaukee Police Station bombing of 1917, Madison defense attorney Strang (known from Netflix’s Making a Murderer) looks at another seminal case from 100 years ago, the mass trials of folks connected to International Workers of the World (Wobblies), the big-tent union that went up against mining and railroad interest. With the start of the Great War, anti-war sentiment became a criminal offense, and large numbers of people were put on trial in Chicago and other cities. With a different take on free speech and no right to an attorney, the trials were different than they are today. But other notable aspects of these trials still resonate, such as the power of the prosecuting attorneys in controlling the cases. Strang brings to life many of the players (there are a lot of larger-than-life characters involved) and looks at the strategic way the industrial interests used the government to break the IWW. Though categorized as an academic title, Keep the Wretches in Order will resonate with history buffs and many lawyers.— Daniel Goldin
Before World War I, the government reaction to labor dissent had been local, ad hoc, and quasi-military. Sheriffs, mayors, or governors would deputize strikebreakers or call out the state militia, usually at the bidding of employers. When the United States entered the conflict in 1917, government and industry feared that strikes would endanger war production; a more coordinated, national strategy would be necessary. To prevent stoppages, the Department of Justice embarked on a sweeping new effort—replacing gunmen with lawyers. The department systematically targeted the nation’s most radical and innovative union, the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies, resulting in the largest mass trial in U.S. history.
In the first legal history of this federal trial, Dean Strang shows how the case laid the groundwork for a fundamentally different strategy to stifle radical threats, and had a major role in shaping the modern Justice Department. As the trial unfolded, it became an exercise of raw force, raising serious questions about its legitimacy and revealing the fragility of a criminal justice system under great external pressure.
About the Author
Dean A. Strang is a criminal defense lawyer in Madison, Wisconsin, and an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. He is the author of Worse than the Devil: Anarchists, Clarence Darrow, and Justice in a Time of Terror.
“Dean Strang tells a great story of America’s struggle with fear and injustice a century ago while asking us to consider, ‘What is the story of ourselves that we write today?’ American workers still fight what the Wobblies fought in 1918, as the Justice Department during WWI overreached in ways similar to our current ‘war on terror.’ Dean is a great attorney and a gifted writer, borrowing lessons from the past to help guide our future.”—Alec Baldwin
“Strang humanizes this shameful chapter in our nation’s history. With empathy and verve, he tells the story of abuse of executive power, a partial and wacky federal judge (and autocratic first baseball commissioner), and many ruined lives of working men and women.”—Brad Snyder, author of The House of Truth: A Washington Political Salon and the Foundations of American Liberalism